Thursday, 15 August 2013

There has been a lot of speculation in recent weeks about the future of the Fire & Rescue Service and we await the Government's response to Sir Ken Knight's Efficiency Review. I have no doubt the Government will have a view on how they see the future of the Service; what roles we should be performing, different options for delivering the Service and whether the existing Governance arrangements should continue.  
The changes to the Police with the introduction of Police & Crime Commissioners is one model that is likely to be seriously considered and there have already been some calls for the existing Police & Crime Commissioners to take over the running of the Fire & Rescue Service. 

Closer integration with the Ambulance Service is also on the table as is co-location of sites, including Headquarters and police/ambulance/fire stations. We are likely to see considerable changes in the future; what we need to ensure is that we shape and influence the change rather than have change imposed upon us. 

I would wish to see a more open and transparent model for funding the Service, with more local accountability. The current situation where we have a government grant that is reducing year on year and where we collect Council Tax but have almost no say in whether we can raise Council Tax, places us in an impossible situation. 

Our funding has been reduced year on year for the past three years with further reductions every year up until 2018/19. I would like to see greater freedoms at a local level, to be able to go to local Council Tax payers and local businesses and make clear the cost of our Service, what we provide and what any rise in Council Tax would mean in their pocket, also making clear what the alternative means in terms of reducing our services. 

The Chancellor has made clear the cuts in funding we will have over the next five years, but what we do not yet know is what reforms will be introduced by Government. We remain committed in East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service to providing high quality services to our local communities as much as we are able to, but given the certainty of cuts to our funding, there is no alternative but to change the way we deliver all our services.  

I was inspired this week by watching Christine Ohuruogu running the 400 metres at the World Athletic Championship; coming into the last quarter of the race, Christine was in fifth place and as the finishing line came closer, she didn’t look like winning; but Christine dug in, using every ounce of effort and determination, never giving up! What a champion, what an inspiration and what an illustration of perseverance and resilience, qualities that organisational leaders at all levels must show in meeting the significant challenges we are all facing. 

Condolences and sympathies to the families of the Indian submariners who died following a huge explosion on the INS Sindhurakshak. I have two very good friends who were submariners and a few firefighters used to serve 'beneath the ocean waves', a special bunch of guys who chose this life. 

Some 13 years ago there was the tragedy on the Russian submarine, Kursk, where over 100 crew were killed following an explosion and there is little room for error in such confined environments. Let's hope and pray that the rescue operation now in progress results in lives being saved. Condolences also to the family of Mark Sutton, the stuntman who thrilled us all last year at the Olympics opening ceremony when he parachuted into the stadium dressed as James Bond.

My Week

  • Discussed the work we are involved in with JESIP (Joint Emergency Services Interagency Planning.) This work is led by CFOA working closely with senior colleagues from the Police and the Emergency Ambulance Service and reports directly to the Home Secretary. We believe there is an opportunity for the Fire Service College to be a training venue for the joint services making use of the excellent fireground facilities where we can develop realistic and challenging operational scenarios
  • Went across to The Ridge for their Open Day on Saturday. Lots of demonstrations and displays with SECamb and Sussex Police supporting the event. I met some 'new recruits' who had been put through their initial training course by firefighters on the station. What a brilliant initiative and the 'new recruits' had a fantastic experience and were very proud when they received their certificates
  • On Sunday I went to see the 999 Day on Hove Lawns. Another excellent joint emergency services event and our staff from ESFRS were kept very busy with the large and enthusiastic crowds. The Aerial Ladder Platform was certainly playing to the crowd and competing for the top 'showboater' along with Dave Ivemy and the chip pan and hot oil cooking demonstrator. Lots of crews from across the City were involved and thanks to our CFS staff, volunteers, support staff and officers who supported the events in Hastings and Hove
  • Meeting with Principal Officers at HQ to discuss our contingency planning preparations, a meeting with Councillors later this week to discuss the Integrated Risk Management plan, our annual plan which is due to be published and which sets out our general direction and savings target over the next 3 years
  • Planning for the Cross Sector Leadership Exchange in 2014 to agree venues and the theme for next year. We are currently looking at the subject of 'Public Value' and trying to get a number of key speakers who can help senior leaders drive forward and deliver public value in the public services
  • Met with colleagues at the Fire Service College to discuss our on-going working arrangements, the Executive Leadership Programme for 2013/14, with assessment centres to be held in September for the new intake of candidates who will start their programme in November and also met with colleagues from Skills for the Fire & Rescue Service to agree our work programme on national occupational standards and the Fire Professional Framework over the next 3 years
  • Also caught up with one of the NHS people I am mentoring, to discuss their PDP (Personal Development Plan), an excellent use of time as Sue planned this in my diary for lunchtime and arranged for my NHS colleague to drive to the Fire Service College for a meeting. Thanks Sue great use of my time and saves me having to eat at lunchtime!
  • Invited to a reunion with my old mates at Aylesbury fire station; I was a Leading Firefighter on Green Watch and a Sub on Blue Watch in the early 1980s having moved from Bletchley and had some great times at the old station in Cambridge Street, which is now a retail park! That old station certainly had some stories to tell!

In the middle of carrying out my appraisals. I always find these a very good time for reflection when meeting with my team, and what I find is the benefit of making the time for a discussion on personal, organisation and career objectives. I know that my team are working at a higher level of intensity than ever and that demands upon them are increasing. The appraisal serves as a reminder to me, just what they have achieved over the past 12 months, the significant contributions they have made and the responsibility I have to make time for them and to ensure they feel valued and supported - we are much stronger and more effective as a team than as a collective of individuals

Met with the Chairman to hear how he would want to take forward change and the role of the Fire Authority in leading this change. We discussed the developments for Newhaven the refurbishment and extension at Crowborough, Sussex Control Centre and preparations for next month’s Fire Authority meeting

This week firefighters from Battle were out at an incident on the A21 in Sedlescombe where a vehicle had collided with a telegraph pole and overturned with one female casualty trapped. Crews extricated the casualty using a spinal board supported by their paramedic colleagues from SECamb who took the casualty to hospital for further treatment. 

The benefits of working smoke alarms were proved earlier this week, after Lewes firefighters were called out to a house fire in the town. A young teenager in the property was woken by the smoke alarm and managed to escape without harm from what was a serious bedroom fire. One of the firefighters on the scene commented that the bedroom was seriously affected by the fire and if the youngster hadn't been woken by the smoke alarm then the outcome could have been very different. 

There has been a spate of deliberate fires in the Newhaven area in recent weeks with a serious gorse fire over the weekend. Approximately 30 firefighters were called to extinguish the blaze at Castle Hill, with over 50 emergency calls received by the Mobilising & Control Centre to this one incident.  Crews used hose reels, main jets and compressed air foam to bring the fire under control. Warnings have been issued to local communities to be vigilant and East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service are working with colleagues from Sussex Police to investigate these fires.

Firefighters from Bexhill responded to an unusual animal rescue incident where a 1.5 metre corn snake had escaped from a local property, whilst the owner was in the process of feeding the reptile. The firefighters used all their skills and resourcefulness to retrieve the snake from the guttering and return it safely to its owner and ever mindful of safety, offered a home safety check to the householder. 

This Saturday, Newhaven community fire station will be welcoming local people to their ever popular Open Day. Firefighters will be putting on displays and demonstrations and will showcase the specialist nature of the Service with the maritime firefighting team, animal rescue unit and water safety equipment.

On Friday and Saturday, firefighters from Hastings will be outside the main Debenhams department store speaking to the public about cooking safely with advice, information and informative displays. About two thirds of the property fires in Hastings are cooking related and crews hope to speak to local shoppers, parents and children during the school holidays when sometimes it is easy to become distracted when you are cooking, or on the phone or when there is simply a lot of activity and noise. Crews will also provide general advice on home safety and if required visit local homes and fit smoke alarms.

Sobering news from Egypt with reports indicating that many people have been killed as security forces started to clear protesters from parts of Cairo. The picture is still unclear but what I have seen and read in the media does give much cause for concern. 

But a great week for sport, with England winning the Ashes by blowing away the Aussies at the picturesque Riverside Ground in Durham. An England win against Scotland at Wembley and more success at the World Athletic Championship.  And at last, after a very long wait, the proper football season kicks off and normal service is resumed! 

Also a great week for NHS Blood and Transplant who have seen record numbers of organ donors saving over 4200 lives last year. There is still more to be done and East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service are proud to support blood and organ donations, and I often see the NHS team at our open days; but three people a day still die waiting for an organ donor and blood donations are a crucial part of our Health Service, so we must do all we can to support their fantastic work.

Des Prichard
Chief Fire Officer & Chief Executive
East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service